Objectives: Despite large communities living in informal zones around major cities in Syria, there is currently no information on the health and environmental situations in these areas. From May to August 2004, the Syrian Center for Tobacco Studies (SCTS) conducted the first household survey aiming to provide a baseline map of main health problems and exposures affecting these communities in Aleppo, the second largest city in Syria (2,500,000 inhabitants).
Methods: Information on 1,021 participants randomly selected using stratified cluster sampling were available (46% males, mean age 34+/-11.7, age range 18-65 years, response rate 86%), including self-reported health/disability, exposures, and saliva cotinine measurement.
Results: Some positive findings include better than expected access to electricity, piped water, city sewage, and the use of propane for cooking. Particular areas of concern include high fertility rates, overcrowded housing conditions, and gender inequality in education and work. Household features likely to reflect negatively on residents' health include the use of diesel chimneys for heating and lack of smoking restrictions. Overall, residents of informal zones suffer from substantial physical and mental health problems and are exposed to high levels of indoor air pollution. All seem to affect women and the elderly disproportionately, while men are more affected by smoking, occupational respiratory exposures, and injuries. Both infectious and non-infectious respiratory outcomes were very common among study participants. Chronic and degenerative disease, including CVD and joint problems, were a source of substantial morbidity among the studied communities.
Conclusions: This study highlights major health and environmental specificities of marginalized populations living in Aleppo, where women seem to bear a disproportionate burden of poor health and disability. Smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke seem among the major exposures facing these populations.